Archive for April 2012

Writer S.J. Chambers said (I’m paraphrasing) that steampunk should be considered an art form in a literary panel we were on together at the first Florida Steampunk Exhibition in Daytona Beach, FL. Why this stuck with me is because I am an artist. Defining myself as that, this chief portion of my persona “artist” what on earth does that mean?

artist |ˈärtist|
noun
a person who produces paintings or drawings as a profession or hobby.
• a person who practices any of the various creative arts, such as a sculptor, novelist, poet, or filmmaker.
• a person skilled at a particular task or occupation: a surgeon who is an artist with the scalpel.
• a performer, such as a singer, actor, or dancer.
• [ with modifier ] informal a habitual practitioner of a specified reprehensible activity: a con artist | rip-off artists.
ORIGIN early 16th cent. (denoting a master of the liberal arts): from French artiste, from Italian artista, from arte art, from Latin ars, art- .

As the definition  by the app on my Apple dashboard points out, this word has various connotations. For the medium of steampunk, to be a steampunk artist, one must understand steampunk as art. So, art, that nebulous thing we can never quite define no matter how many dictionary apps we look at. In my mind as a practitioner of art, art is the perfect blend of the organic and the composed. (Even that sounds nebulous)

Let me elaborate. The organic portion of an art is its ability to change, adapt and become individualized for each practitioner while retaining the overall premise of the initial art form. Foe example – painters work with some form of liquid media which carries pigment. Steampunk artists work with Victorian themes and whatever else their imagination/experience provides. This weekend at the FSEE I saw everything from reenacting costumes for a steampunk version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to a mobile replica of the Time Machine by H.G. Wells. The varied costume and even folks without personas were made welcome and accepted for their presence as much as for their art.

The crux of this is that steampunk as an art needs really to fulfill, in my mind, a few precepts:

– Spanning generations and cultures.

– Open to varied interpretation by practitioners.

– Available to be accessible to those people outside of the direct practice of the art.

Steampunk truly accomplishes this by not only the examples I’ve cited, but by its growth. As we watch its insurgence to the wider market, it will change and morph and become a different but valuable portion of our culture. I am watching that happen, but that, dearest readers, is another blog post.

Please think about the above comments and reply as needed. I’d love your input on this discussion.

Dearest Readers and Friends,
I have of late been privy to discussions/debates concerning the nature of a genre I have become increasingly fond of over the last few years: Steampunk.
Coming into this thoughtful fantasy, I was amazed at the shear variety of work that was “steamed”. I had grown enamored of Datamancer’s functional art, Dr. Grymm’s delightfully crafted sculptures, the cosplay of conventioners and the like. Perhaps my favorite portion was the rebirth of interest in classic imagineering from the very era steampunks emulate.
The literary works and art of the genre inspired me as I thought of my own life; I have been enthralled by gears and clockworks my entire life. As a child, Lego building blocks Co. introduced a line that was about creating working machines with visible gears and mechanics. It was called Technics. I bought all I could find with my paper route money. I continued to purchase these sets up through my late teens. Peering through my sketchbooks (which I have saved all from age 12 on) I found gears etc were a constant theme. Even of late, my wife would laugh when we passed shop windows with clocks, I’d always have to stop and stand in awe.

Perhaps it is the focus of what we do as artists that makes steampunk so appealing as it now hits the mass market in so many ways. Time is what defines artists. Artists are who define time. We are the keepers of history, so why not imagine our own history? We have created parallel universes, altered states of being, images and words that capture the imagination of this generation like the turn of the last century was captured by Verne, Lovecraft, Doyle, Mieles and others. The fact of the matter is, this generation of faceted time where instantaneous is not fast enough, steampunk flaunts patience.

This brings me to the case at hand, what and who defines “steampunk”? I do. You do. Anyone who practices the art of change and rebirth of imagination does. I will refer to the end of the word first since it is the one that is taken for granted most. We all know where the steam portion came from and yet we forget the better, more important portion of the genre; punk. In the late 1970’s children from England rebelled against the class system by rehashing old icons of hatred (neo-nazi), self-mutilation (piercings with odd objects in obviously distasteful methods and odd hair), wearing clothing inappropriate for a respectable youth (rips, tears, leather, etc.) all in reaction to one phrase, “There is no future.” They saw their lives as over and the confines of their system daunting to the point where the outward manifestation of their angst became a statement to the generation before them, “This is what you’ve left us with. No way out and no future.”

When the genre hit New York, the term “punk” was coined by Lou Reed. By the time it reached our shores it had lost its meaning. It was marketed. It was recorded. It had a future. The premise still held on in a spark: youth discontent with a system they had no control over.

We now come to steampunk. Not created by youth. Created by artists. A literary genre that is defined by the discontent with the rampant view of technology and the world in general as disposable and temporary. Adults began to recognize that we too could form a group of outsiders determined to define time and space as not linear, but flowing with imaginative possibilities and colliding in a whirlwind of now and then. History itself became a playground. The craftsmanship of days gone by with the current ability to have information in an instant gave birth to what we have now.

I am a steampunk artist. I write, illustrate, sculpt and enjoy steampunk. I have always been a slave of time and yet now, we walk together creating amazing things that intrigue others. Is my book or my art just “putting goggles on something and calling it steampunk?” No. It is subtle. It is not like others in that there are hints of altered time and snippets of advanced tech in a Victorian setting. It was said once to me that the reason my writing worked so well was that the steampunk comes out quietly as if it is just a fact of life, not like a hammer over the head proclaiming its existence.

That being said. My version and perception of how the genre is handled varies even within my own work. Sometimes I like the hammer blow of difference. The bottom line is that this genre is punk. It is about making a societal statement in the way that best fits you. If you want to be subtle and just wear goggles, do it. If you want to outfit yourself in a fully automated steam powered suit and walk through the city streets, more coal to your fire, my friend. Anyone should be able to express him or herself in whatever fashion is befitting them. No one should narrow a definition to the genre. Least of all me.

Yours in Art,

Jason Robert LeClair